As a native Philadelphian, NJ Transit has always been my preferred choice for transportation to New York City. The company delivers what I need in a regional train connection: fast, efficient, clean and inexpensive.
NJ Transit is hard at work in other areas of customer service. The company is building out a statewide public address and display system that will soon have a presence in every station in the NJ Transit system. Currently passengers on the River Line, Northeast Corridor Line and at certain bus stations are seeing and hearing the results.
“As part of our effort to improve customer communications, we are improving the display quality of our passenger information systems, as well as adding displays at locations where they previously didn’t exist,” said David Rountree, manager of Public Address Communications Technologies for NJ Transit.
“We’re also improving the quality of our public address systems to ensure that customers can hear announcements in the rail station environment. This new system is very clear and concise.”
A general overview of the system only hints at the massive undertaking behind the initiative. This isn’t as simple as replacing ceiling speakers or adding a few signs. It’s essentially a complete overhaul of a complex system that includes migrating away from proprietary server platforms and expensive vendor contracts; and toward a standardized, self-owned and operated network built to disseminate audio and visual information from one to many points.
Rountree and his engineering staff are looking to the IP environment to achieve their collective vision. The team is handling the majority of the integration process, with Baran Design Associates, a consulting firm based in Bergenfield, N.J., assisting in design and equipment selection.
Both companies are also working with hand-picked vendors to deliver IP-friendly systems with open standards. This includes Loquendo and its unique text-to-speech engine; Barix, an audio over IP specialist that enables flexible audio distribution across the network; and Harman Music Group, the parent company of signal processing, amplifier and loudspeaker brands at the various stations.
“Transit systems in general are very slow to change,” said Mark Ramsay, president of Baran Design Associates.
“NJ Transit is on the leading edge of a trend toward installing systems that are no longer based solely on equipment,” said Ramsay. “NJ Transit’s new structure, based on end results now, delivers computer-generated messaging via an IP network adds new tools to what was before an audio-only discipline. This opens up many possibilities for integrating audio, text, video, monitoring and logging in the wider messaging system.”
Ramsay added that in the process of bidding on other transit jobs in the United States and internationally he has seen NJ Transit drawings show up in specs for other systems — particularly on the audio side.
“A lot of people who are in charge of audio messaging for transit systems have been looking for new ways to increase the quality and coverage of PA systems,” he continued. “The added expense can be hard to justify even though it creates a much better system. The fact that NJ Transit is actually proving this works is making them a linchpin of sorts in getting other systems upgraded.”
The core data center, located in Newark, currently houses a mixture of server platforms that supply passenger information to signs. At one point vendors included Penta Technology and Arinc Technology for the commuter rail system, GE for light rail and Alpine for the bus system. Some of these systems have since been scaled back and others are close to disappearing completely as NJ Transit implements its new vision.
“We had a lot of different vendors with different methods and databases to populate information, which made it difficult to provide customers with useful information,” said Rountree. “We decided to centralize our data, so that we can provide clear and up-to-the-minute details about their commutes.”